With spring giving way to summer, expect hotter, more humid weather. Summer in Japan also usually begins with tsuyu, or the rainy season, so prepare for some wet (but still hot and humid) days in June. But neither hot weather nor rain can put a damper on these events! Also, as you can see, if you come to Tokyo in early or mid-May, you’re in luck, as you can bear witness to 2 of Tokyo’s 3 major festivals.
1. Kanda Matsuri – May 7-15
Where: Kanda Myojin (Ochanomizu or Akihabara Station)
One of Tokyo’s 3 major Shinto festivals, the Kanda Matsuri is held during odd-numbered years, alternating with the Sanno Matsuri. This grand festival lasts for a little more than a week, but the main processions are from May 9-10. The day-long procession on Saturday begins at Kanda Myojin early in the morning, and involves several mikoshi (portable shrines) being carried around, as well as several people in traditional clothing and costumes, including priests on horseback and people dressed as samurai. From Kanda Myojin, the procession will go around Nihonbashi, Otemachi, and Akihabara. On the second day, different neighborhoods introduce their own mikoshi in parades.
2. Sanja Matsuri – May 15-17
Where: Asakusa Station
Another of Tokyo’s 3 major festivals, this festival has 3 main mikoshi in honor of the 3 founders of Asakusa’s famous Senso-ji. As these portable shrines are carried around town, performers, smaller mikoshi, and people in costume also form part of the lively procession. Asakusa’s geisha also take part in the festivities, and there will also be food and game booths to entertain visitors. This festival is also known to be rowdier than most other festivals, probably due to the very energetic and boisterous mikoshi carriers and performers. Yakuza members are also known to join the Sanja Matsuri, and they can be seen proudly displaying their intricate tattoos.
3. Design Festa – May 16-17
Where: Tokyo Big Sight (Kokusai-Tenjijo or Kokusai-Tenjijo-Seimon Station)
Asia’s largest art event, Design Festa typically takes place bi-annually. This year’s first Design Festa will have 3,400 booths and 12,000 exhibitors, showcasing all sorts of visual and performance art. Visiting the event in costume (as long as it doesn’t violate copyright laws—this isn’t a cosplay event!) or alternative fashion is also very much welcomed, so this is also a recommended event for those who love fashion. (There are also booths that sell clothing and accessories for alternative fashion enthusiasts.) A ticket is 800 yen per day if bought in advance, and 1,000 yen at the door, while a 2-day ticket bought in advance is 1,500 yen, or 1,800 yen at the door.
4. Torigoe Shrine Festival – June 6-7
Where: Torigoe Shrine (Kuramae Station)
Alternatively spelled as “Torikoe,” this festival, a tradition that’s more than 1,000 years old, is known for the Senkan-Mikoshi, a four-ton mikoshi that’s the heaviest in Tokyo. A performer dressed as a Sarutahiko (long-nosed goblin), tekomai singers and dancers, and colorfully dressed children lead the parade. On its way back to Torigoe Shrine, the Senkan-Mikoshi is adorned with lanterns. As with the Kanda Matsuri and Sanja Matsuri, this festival goes on until nighttime.
5. Bunkyo Ajisai Festival – June 6-14
Where: Hakusan Shrine (Hakusan Station)
Ajisai, or hydrangea, is arguably the best-known summer blossom in Japan, and is especially associated with the rainy season. The quiet, low-key Hakusan Shrine becomes colorful in summer, thanks to the blooming of about 3,000 hydrangeas. The flowers aren’t the only attraction at this festival, as there will also be food, as well as music and dance performances.
Special Mention: Great Japan Beer Festival – June 6-7
Where: The Garden Hall at Ebisu Garden Place (Ebisu Station)
With the entrance fee of 4,800 yen (advanced selling) or 5,200 yen at the door, this isn’t exactly a cheapo event, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. What better way to kick off summer than to celebrate with some beer, after all? This beer festival takes place around Japan, and in Tokyo, it will be held in the Garden Hall at Ebisu Garden Place. The admission ticket entitles you to over 200 local and international beers, so if you love beer and can keep drinking, the entrance fee doesn’t sound so bad, after all!